I am deluged every day with emails colored red or blue. All want to hear from me! They present not only vastly different assessments of what is happening in our world, why it is happening but especially, how we should move forward. Both colors want to hear from me. Why? They both want me on their side! They hope for my financial support in the run-up to an election. Above all, they want my vote! For them, there is no grain of truth in the other side. It’s all about winners and losers. My way or the highway!
That’s the digital air we breathe! It is inevitable that this air affects how we think in general. So, it should not surprise us that we bring such an either/or way of thinking to where we see the church is heading, why, and what must be done.
An ecclessial expression of this atmosphere
In a few weeks, the church begins a three-year synod! Now synod sounds like insider-baseball talk of a gathering of bishops and the Pope to bring forth a set of documents similar to the famous, or infamous, “Vatican II”.
From what I can see this synod is not on the radar screens of people in the pews.. or … not in the pews. From those who are aware, I hear panicked fears of winners and losers.
Conservative critics say they are concerned that the synod will foster division in the church and undermine the church’s established teaching and authority. Liberals fear a “sanitizing of feedback” because the three-year process of local listening sessions will be summarized by national episcopal conferences. Both believe “I win, you lose”.
Beyond Papal sound bites
Pope Francis thinks differently. He thinks listening to each other helps each hear the Holy Spirit. This synod process is the “dynamism of mutual listening”, where everyone must listen to each other at all levels. The Holy Spirit has something to say to each side.
“We are not studying this or that case, no. We are on a journey of listening to each other and to the Holy Spirit, of discussing with each other and also of discussing with the Holy Spirit, which is a way of praying,”
ALL are called to listen to the spirit together. He told the people of his own diocese in Rome…
“Bishops must listen to each other, priests must listen to each other, religious must listen to each other, lay people must listen to each other.”
“Synodality” comes from the Greek, meaning “common road”. We are all on a listening journey together.
Synodality “is not about collecting opinions”. Rather, it is about listening, first of all, to the Holy Spirit and trying “to grasp (the Spirit’s) presence”.
Lessons from the early church
He says synodality is based “not on personal thoughts” but on the Acts of the Apostles, which he called the “greatest ‘manual’ of ecclesiology”. Acts recounts the early history of the Church. It tells of how the early generations coped with differences. Paul was challenged to expand his horizons on the road to Damascus. The first Pope was challenged by and learned from Paul to expand his horizons.
The official guidebook for the synod says it is
“intended to inspire people to dream about the church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission.”
- Can I listen and learn from those with different perspectives?
- Or do I limit the Spirit to only those who agree with me?
Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk